Photographs by Daniel Arnold
Miami Vice or Miami Virtue? Nodaleto opens its first boutique in the Miami Design District.
It-girls, of-the-moment photographers, ultra-retouched images and no-nonsense heels have proven a successful formula for Nodaleto so far. But with all the desired ephemera and seemingly ceaseless growth beckons the question, when is fast too fast?
The brand, founded by Julia Toledano and Olivier Leone online in 2019, is now breaking the IRL, opening its first store in the Miami Design District. Nodaleto is in the forefront of the Instagram-meets-instant-consumerism generation: See it. Tap it. Buy it. Contrary to gaining a staunch stranglehold in the luxury market (their Bulla Babies sales alone can testify to this), the mainstream is not necessarily Nodaleto’s utopia. To put it shrewdly: Nodaleto does not suffer from delusions of grandeur. The brand’s authenticity and identity has remained intact, in-turn creating an aesthetic framework of glamour and grace.
They sell, and they sell well. Yet if you’d ask the industry’s indubitable ‘who’s who’, there seems to be a “lesser-than” consensus regarding the space and questionable monopoly Instagram-native brands hold. Somehow deemed “lesser-than-luxury” amongst an unspoken-of sartorial hierarchy that perhaps one shouldn’t pay attention to, or perhaps shouldn’t exist in the first place. What is the space that this generation of brands fills so effortlessly? Is it a 21st-century cultural smoke signal of a Warholian snapshot oscillating between high, medium and low brow, alluding to 15 minutes of fame, or a guilty pleasure that we no longer need to feel guilty about?
Nodaleto’s founders spoke to System about the true meaning of the Instagram generation, balancing the knife-edge between good and bad taste and making the tangible the key.
Why did you start Nodaleto?
Julia Toledano: I always wanted to do a shoe brand. At the time, I had the choice to wear sneakers or heels. I wanted to create a shoe I could wear day and night. A chunky shoe with a specific heel that gives confidence and makes you feel empowered. A shoe that speaks to me and the contemporary reality of my friends while still embodying luxury and quality. It was about embracing contemporary taste with the tradition and savoir-faire of luxury fashion that I knew from growing up.
How did you start working with Olivier?
Julia Toledano: We started Nodaleto five years ago. I was 25, but the project had been on my mind for much longer. Olivier and I were friends at the time. I came to him with my designs, he read my mind, and we became partners.
I focus on product design and production, and Olivier builds the brand image and manages creativity as a whole.
Olivier Leone: Some people doodle crosses and hearts when they are bored. Julia always drew shoes in her textbooks at school. It was something inherent to her. At the time, I was consulting brands on creative, which I still do. Few shoe brands combined a fashion-forward approach with high-end quality when we started. The cool factor was missing.
How has Nodaleto evolved since its conception?
Julia Toledano: In the beginning, it was all about the product. The first collection was small and served as a base. It was quite minimalistic and close to a Margiela approach. People said they found their alternative to the Tabi Boot in our White Bulla Corta.
Olivier Leone: It was a very edited collection. We stripped the shoe of any details: no logo or sparkling buckle. Not everyone loves a chunky heel, but it was important to make a statement. After this essential collection, we added elements that reflect Julias’ journey, season after season. As a designer but most importantly as a woman.
Julia Toledano: Our first collection is still part of today’s collection, and I still love our first campaign. But Nodaleto has evolved into a Brand with a capital B.
‘People said they found their alternative to the Tabi Boot in our White Bulla Corta.’
Most heritage luxury shoe brands are led by male designers. Do you think about that when you design? How does the female perspective differ?
Julia Toledano: I didn’t think about it in the beginning. Olivier made me aware of it. The approach to the product is different. I can wear my designs and know what it means to walk in heels all day and relate to other women’s desires. Today there are more brands with female designers and CEOs. This will have an effect on the dominant aesthetic in culture over time.
Olivier Leone: To be honest, when Julia showed me the first sketch of what was to become the iconic Nodaleto heel, I wasn’t into it. Looking back, I understood my male gaze dictated what was fashion at the time. Julia designs shoes for a generation that is fed up with stilettos.
You came in at a time when people were looking for a product that was not represented by luxury. The sneaker trend was at its ripest. Heels belonged to a world that consumers didn’t live in anymore.
Julia Toledano: A consumer reality that many luxury brands slept on while focusing on sneakers.
What is the Nodaleto brand DNA in your own words?
Olivier Leone: Our tagline on Instagram is “Mischievous Shoes.” Playfulness is a big part of our DNA. We are big children.
Who is the Nodaleto woman?
Julia Toledano: Our woman is knowledgable, emancipated from conventions, and a free spirit. I don’t think she is a fashion girl per se. She’s from all parts of pop culture. She’s mischievous.
Olivier Leone: It’s Julia’s journey. She is about design and architecture. From Rem Koolhaas to mid-century design. The shoe as a building. When I first saw Julia, I thought: That girl is sexy, but she is unaware of it. She is not playing with it. She is not sexualising herself, but she is sexy. Julia gets inspired by pop-culture icons like Bianca Jagger, Beatrix Kiddo, and Julia Roberts. It’s a cerebral approach. It’s definitely referential.
Julia Toledano: The color of the brand — the tangerine — represents that. It’s a mix of red and yellow. Red represents love and lust. Yellow stands for childhood and bright playfulness.
‘It’s pop art. We play with advertising and pop culture as Jeff Koons and Warhol did. We are all caps. Bold. Straight forward. We’re not shy.’
What was the biggest challenge in starting a brand from scratch?
Olivier Leone: Our biggest challenge remains the same: It’s about making the perfect shoe. When you have a high-end positioning at a $700 price point, you can’t afford to have a shoe that doesn’t last. Our shoe has a sharp design that puts tension on the leather. That’s why you couldn’t find a trapeze heel on the market because it’s complicated to make. Finding the perfect balance of The Bulla Babies heel took a year.
You mentioned Nodaleto is moving on the fine line between good and bad taste. Can you expand on that?
Julia Toledano: It’s pop art. We play with advertising and pop culture as Jeff Koons and Warhol did. We are all caps. Bold. Straight forward. We’re not shy.
Olivier Leone: As the brand grew, we saw people’s reactions to the heel. Parents between the age of 40-60 didn’t like it. Their daughters loved it. Taste is generational. For decades it was about a thin heel. Many people say this heel has bad taste because it’s big and heavy in appearance. Big used to be the opposite of refined. We want to play with this rule.
What’s something kitsch that you love?
Olivier Leone: Julia loves kitsch!
Julia Toledano: I love Miami.
Olivier Lone: We are both obsessed with Japan. I am learning Japanese. Julia is obsessed with Manga and Manga disproportion. Our designs and ads by Harumi Yamaguchi and Marili Andre playing with giant girls and giant shoes are inspired by the Harajuku girl.
Why did you decide to open a store?
Olivier Leone: Luxury, in its essence, is about having a boutique. The brand is at a crossroads. The heel became famous and spread everywhere as an aesthetic. Now we are evolving and going in new directions. A retail store is a great medium to communicate the brand’s journey. We are a digital vertical native brand (DVNB). Digital makes up almost 40% of our business. It’s great that the brand works online, but for a Soulier brand, it’s essential to be IRL. We want to connect to our consumers, communicate our universe and have them try our shoes.
Why in the Miami Design District?
Olivier Leone: Miami is a playground. Again it moves on the fine line between good and bad taste. Miami is the city of beach and party but also art and design. We love that contrast.
Julia Toledano: The US is our second biggest market after France. Miami is a plaque tournante — a turntable. It’s one of the key cities in luxury sales. After Miami, we are looking to open stores in Paris, New York, and Seoul.
‘In the age of Instagram and Influencers, luxury has no choice but to admit that this generation of new brands is a force to be reckoned with. We are living in a state of tyranny, dictated by the majority.’
Do you feel an arrogance from big luxury towards this younger generation of brands?
Julia Toledano: We live in interesting times, where codes and values are shifting for better or worse. Brands have no other choice but to accept what’s happening. Ten years ago, no one would have imagined seeing models dancing on a Louis Vuitton TikTok video. It feels like the opposite of luxury. But it’s new luxury, defined by a new generation. Our role is to free ourselves from the dictate and conventions that define luxury.
Olivier Leone: In the age of Instagram and Influencers, luxury has no choice but to admit that this generation of new brands is a force to be reckoned with. We are living in a state of tyranny, dictated by the majority. Digital brands are freer because they can allow themselves to think differently. Jacquemus is a good example. He built his brand around his personal story. The brand as a diary. It’s not surprising that Demna with Balenciaga is the leading voice in luxury because he applies the codes of a new generation, which means there are no longer codes. There is a saying in Mediterranean culture: ‘You can only give a child two things: Roots to remember and wings to fly.’ For us, it’s all about respecting the past while leading the path ahead.
Models: Jacquelyn Jablonski at The Society; Talita Santana, Victoria Herran and Kamryn Grecco at Next; Olga Estupinan at The Source; Veronica Contreras at Elite; Kay Kasparhauser.
Stylist: Daniel Gaines. Hair & Make-up: Yulia Afi. Casting: Liz Goldson. Movement Director: Kristie Muller. Production: Dirty Pretty Productions.